The BookBaby Spotlight podcast is your home for conversations with authors, illustrators, editors, and other industry insiders from the world of self-publishing, hosted by BookBaby distribution manager, Sam Sedam.
Sam recently spoke with Julie Beddingfield, owner and manager of Inkwood Books in Haddonfield, NJ. Beddingfield shares her strategy for bookselling in the age of COVID as well as what she looks for and expects from authors who want her to sell their books. The following is an excerpt from the podcast interview.
Sam Sedam: How do new releases work? You’ve been closed for two months, does that mean you’re putting all of them off?
Julie Beddingfield: Well, some of the publishers are pushing the publication dates, so a lot of that has changed, depending on the book, but then some haven’t. The new Hunger Games book came out when it was supposed to. So it’s all over the place in terms of publishers making those decisions. But we’re getting there, some of the wholesalers were overwhelmed when this first started because all the bookstores went online at the same time, so now they’re starting to catch up. The shipping times have gotten a lot better. I think in another couple of weeks we’ll be pretty caught up.
Sam Sedam: Are you working with the new BookShop.org for that?
Julie Beddingfield: We have always had our own website that has an eCommerce platform. We are a member on BookShop, but we mostly promote our own website — we just have a little more contact with the customers that way. BookShop is great and it’s been a lifesaver for those stores that didn’t have an eCommerce platform when this started, they were able to jump on that quickly.
Sam Sedam: So you are in the process of moving the store?
Julie Beddingfield: We just moved, in the middle of the pandemic, which I would not recommend. It’s just across the street, we moved to a bigger space. At the time, when this whole thing started, we were already planning to move, and I had doubts. I sat with my husband and my staff and talked it through, I was thinking, “This is crazy. Why are we going to move to a bigger location? We’re shut down, the future’s uncertain.” But, we had such great response from the community, already, just ordering online, reaching out to us and asking, “How can we help you?” That gave us hope to think, “We can ride this out.” So that’s what we’re doing, we’re riding it out. We’re trying to keep promoting things, remind people we’re still here, we still try to provide really good customer service even though we’re doing it remotely. We’ve done FaceTime shopping with customers, we’ve done phone calls with customers, we lay books out and take pictures and email them to people.
Sam Sedam: That makes a lot of sense. Hopefully you can keep that loyal fan base in place.
Julie Beddingfield: Yes, and the book industry has been wonderful. Between the publishers and the book associations and the authors, there have just been a lot of people reminding readers to go to their indie bookstores.
Sam Sedam: One of the things I think our listeners would find really helpful is learning about how to set up author events — assuming that’s a thing that occurs some time in the future… So how would you handle an author walking into your store and saying, “I have this book.” What’s the next step? What do you want to hear?
Julie Beddingfield: Honestly, if you’re walking in with your book, we probably ought to have seen you before. The most important thing for local authors, especially self-published authors, is to develop a relationship with your local bookstore before you go in there trying to sell your book. We used to get three to four requests a week, and it’s hard to filter through all that. Doing events and selling self-published books is a whole different process for us. So, it helps a lot if we have a relationship with you. You support us, we support you. If I’ve never seen you before and you come in and toss your book on the counter, it’s a lot harder for me to accommodate, because I can’t do them all.
It’s helpful for the author to know who we are, what we do, what kind of book events we have. If you don’t know my name, if you haven’t done your homework before you call, that’s frustrating. Have a sense if your book is a good fit for our store, based on all the info that’s out there publicly. It helps us know that you’re doing your work and we’re doing our work, and then we can have a relationship.
Sam Sedam: So what key things are you listening for when they walk in with their elevator pitch?
Julie Beddingfield: On our website, there’s a form for this. The first thing is, please don’t leave your book. We have stacks and stacks of books. I can’t even read the ones that the mainstream publishers send. There’s just too many books. And I don’t want to waste your book. You spent a lot of money on that book. I don’t want to put it on a stack that’s going to end up in the recycling bin. So we have a form on our website, and a lot of bookstores do, that lists all the information we need from independent published books, and that way, we can manage it.
Some of the questions are, “What’s your connection, locally?” “What’s your connection to Inkwood?” Because we’ve found that the events that do well are with people who have local connections — they’re from here or they have a lot of friends and family here, or the book has some sort of local interest. If it’s some random book and there’s no connection, it’s a lot harder to have a good event. Just because it’s posted doesn’t mean people will come.
Sam Sedam: Have you been in a situation where a local author, a loyal customer, had a book and you had to say, “No, sorry, we’re not interested”?
Julie Beddingfield: Probably 90 percent of the books, we don’t take. We can’t — there’s too many. And I’m talking self-published, independently published, and traditionally published. I look at it objectively: can I sell this book? It doesn’t matter if you’re James Patterson, or whoever — I don’t take a lot of his books, either, because they don’t sell here. Then I look at the book. It has to look good next to every other book in my store. If it doesn’t have the name on the spine or it doesn’t have a barcode or it has a weird font — things like that — if it looks self-published, it doesn’t sell as well.
There is a LOT more to the conversation. Listen to the entire podcast. Check out more episodes through Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple, and most other podcast platforms.
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